Supporting Our Troops After War

Uncategorized May 24, 2019

I will never forget the day that I was almost taken out by a U.S. Marine. I was a little kid working in a boat dealership when I walked into the shop one day and said, “Hey Tommy, have you seen that spare tire for the trailer?” When I did, I startled Tommy, a Viet Nam vet, and he immediately grabbed a shovel, spun around and started swinging at everything in sight, including me. I dived for cover and was hiding behind a fishing boat when he just “snapped out of it,” and was suddenly himself again. I had no clue what had just happened, but it was terrifying. Tommy told me later that he had the “jitters,” as he put it, since he had returned home from the war. 

Now, as a psychologist, I understand more. PTSD and other scars of war are real, and life-altering. What Tommy was experiencing then we have much more knowledge of now. We know what causes it and we know how to treat it. But there are...

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Having Healthy Boundaries Means You Don't Think About Revenge

Uncategorized May 24, 2019

Those who have good boundaries have transcended the need for revenge. Their first goal is to make things better for the other person or group. The other’s benefit is their utmost concern. That does not mean they have no interest at all in their own benefit. It simply means that in their treatment of others, their goal is to do well by them regardless of how they are treated.

They are not interested in settling the score or getting even. Revenge is for immature people, and they know that ultimately the offending person is going to get what he deserves without his needing to bring it about. Life has a way of making that happen, as does also the natural law of sowing and reaping. But even this ultimate payback is not something that those with healthy boundaries wish on another person, and that is the true hallmark of their character. They truly want the best for others, even those who do not do well by them.

That is why people who have healthy boundaries are not full of...

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Revenge is the Worst Response to Pain

Uncategorized May 22, 2019

No one wants to suffer, and it’s natural to want to avoid pain and discomfort. Yet, if you’re seeking to grow, normalizing suffering will facilitate the growth process in your personal development.

Let’s start by understanding how suffering actually helps with growth. Although it presents a negative experience, we recognize that it’s part of life – especially the growth part of life. No one grows to maturity who doesn’t understand what it means to endure pain.

So, when we think about pain, what is one of the worst types that comes to mind? In many cases, it includes a painful experience that is inflicted upon us by someone else. We already bring a great deal of pain to our lives by our own transgressions, and at the same time, others can inflict just as much injury on us. It adds salt to our wounds.

We have natural responses to being hurt that are part of our imperfections. We do not always respond well to stresses in our lives. These responses...

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Embrace the Power of Saying No and Live with Fruitfulness

Uncategorized May 20, 2019

Much of our identity comes from the positive assertions of who we are. We say things such as, “I love sports,” or “I love to travel.” We are asserting positive truths about who we are.

There are many people who aren’t in touch with their “not me” experiences. They don’t know how to disown who they are not.

I once knew a student in med school who wasn’t performing very well, but he felt pressured to stay because it’s what his parents wanted him to become. He needed to scream at the top of his lungs, “I hate medicine!” until he was finally heard, but he kept quiet. His “voice” eventually came out in his poor performance in school and his failure in residence.

Negative assertions are a reality. Just as we need to take responsibility for what lies inside our boundaries, we need to admit to ourselves what lies outside. Some negative assertions would be: “No, I don’t like to speak before large...

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How You Can Address the Patterns that Lead to Divorce

Uncategorized May 17, 2019

Jason and Sara came to see me for premarital counseling. They wanted to prevent any unnecessary problems in their marriage as much ahead of time as possible.

This couple was especially concerned because each had been divorced. The devastation that the split-ups had played in their lives had made them more wary and thoughtful this time around. They were more sober about the marriage and less idealistic than your average “never-married-early-20s” pair.

“What have you learned about yourself from your first marriage?” is one of the questions I ask in this case. It helps people understand their character patterns and look at the possible pitfalls in the relationship.

When I asked them the question, Jason and Sara were somewhat perplexed. They’d honestly never considered the issue before. As we continued exploring, I found out why. Both of them had simply figured they’d married a bad person the first time around, and now they were marrying a much better...

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You Can Create Separateness from Your Mom and Thrive

Uncategorized May 12, 2019

Julia was in her early 30s when she began discussing the ideas of separateness, differences, and boundaries with her mother. It wasn’t easy at first: Mom thought Julia was rejecting her as a person. But they both persevered in the relationship. Mom agreed to respond to Julia’s truth and try not to hear it as pushing her away.

Julia told her mom, “Mom, when I tell you I can’t bring the kids to visit, instead of withdrawing and being hurt, would you just tell me you’re sad about it, and would you try to understand?” Mom learned that Julia’s differences were for Julia, not against Mom. And she began to respect, not resent, her daughter’s independence.

In fact, Mom became even more supportive. When Julia came for a visit, her mother surprised her by saying, “Let me take care of the kids while you and Rich leave for a few hours. You two probably don’t get enough time together.” They gratefully accepted. Then, when the...

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How to Teach Your Teen to Take Responsibility

Uncategorized May 08, 2019

My daughters and I recall with laughter the game that we began years ago to combat blaming and excusing in our house. It did not begin with a case of “The dog hate my homework,” but with a dad (me) who was about ready to catch his hair on fire if he heard one more “But she ...” as an excuse by one of them when corrected.

If I would say, “Don’t do that to your sister,” I could pretty much depend on immediately hearing, “But Daddy, she kicked me,” or “She called me ____.” It was driving me crazy, partly because I hate blame and excuses, but more so because as a psychologist, I know that not accepting responsibility is the quickest way to a miserable and unproductive life. I was determined to stamp it out.

So, I did three things. First, the game. We initiated a sign that would let anyone immediately know that someone was sensing an excuse or an attempt to blame someone else. I am not sure where it comes from, but we used...

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7 Ways to Handle a Personal Breakdown

Uncategorized May 06, 2019

When you're in crisis, won’t be able to make the bad news in the big picture go away quickly, but you do have control over yourself, and you can focus on the vital things of life immediately. Let's take a look.

1. Connect sooner, and more, with those whom you are close to. Every bit of research in stress that science has amassed has verified this fact. The more connected you are to people who fill your heart, the less circumstances will affect you. Even my German Shepherd knows this, as in a thunder storm he will come find someone to be near. From monkey research to successful leadership teams in times of crisis, rule number one is get connected and stay connected. When a soldier lands in enemy territory, question number one is “where is my buddy?” If you are a leader in a company, make sure you do this with the ones who are depending on you to steady the ship.

2. Get back in touch with the things that will outlast the crisis, like your faith, your values, the...

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Being Vulnerable Does Not Mean You Don't Have Boundaries

Uncategorized May 02, 2019

When two people in a relationship hurt each other, their relationship can be restored if they allow their hearts to be vulnerable.

Soft-hearts vs. hard hearts are the real issue, and a soft heart is vulnerable. But, the problem is that when people hurt each other, there is a danger that for either protection’s sake, or because of old wounds, or a refusal to forgive, a heart hardens, making connection and trust impossible.

So, the “never do this again” lesson here is to make a covenant with each other that “we will never harden our hearts towards each other again.” Never close the door, hold on to old wounds, be closed to working it out, and getting vulnerable again.

Now, let me say what this does not mean. It does not mean that someone remains open and vulnerable to abuse, attack, unfaithfulness, addictive destruction, and the like. That requires very strong boundaries. Boundaries are ways of limiting the danger, and the hurt, not setting oneself up for...

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Soften Your Heart and Allow Yourself to Be Vulnerable

Uncategorized May 01, 2019

It felt like I was at Wimbledon watching a tennis match, but instead of a tennis ball that was flying back and forth, it was blame. In tennis, players hit the ball back and forth over the net. In this counseling session with Jeremy and Rachel, one would blame the other, and before the shot ever landed, the other would hit it right back. I felt my head going back and forth, left to right, as they pointed the finger at each other.

This particular “match” was about “his irresponsibility,” as Rachel termed it.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“He always lets me down. Every time I depend on him, he doesn’t follow through, and I am left with some situation that is awful and have to clean up the mess. He keeps doing it over and over,” she said.

The “situation” that she was referring to this time was kind of a big one. He had forgotten to pay the light bill and the lights had literally “gone out.” And she was not...

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